Suffering has been and will continue to be the major theme of 1 Peter. This fact alone should tell us that suffering should be expected in life in this world. The only variables to the suffering with which we are faced are the causes of suffering and the ways that we respond to it.
Most suffering in the world is just. My sin and foolishness are the cause of most of the bad things that happen to me. In the case of just suffering, Christianity can often relieve us of some of the suffering in our lives because following Jesus teaches us how to actually live good lives in a way that we never could apart from Christ.
On the other hand, not all suffering is just. Living in a fallen world also means that suffering will befall people who deserve it in no way, shape or form.
Because 1 Peter is written to an exile community who are suffering for their identification with Christ, the author is equipping people to deal specifically with unjust suffering that comes to their lives. We can also also call this sort of suffering persecution.
When we think of persecution we most often associate it with suffering at the hands of other people for having the identity as a Christian.
Persecution is often misunderstood in places like the United States where we have the rare condition of absolute religious liberty. Even most (though not all) of our families in America will continue to tolerate us if we claim a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is not the situation of the exiles in 1 Peter, nor is it situation where most of the world lives today. Persecution for someone identifying as a Christian can range from teasing to a loss of job, a loss of a close relationship, or even physical harm.
One aspect of unjust suffering that we often ignore, but is spoken about in the Bible is “suffering for righteousness’ sake.” This is a phrase that comes straight from the mouth of Jesus.
The truth about what Jesus is saying is that most persecution comes to us not because we say that we are Christian, but because we actually are seeking to live righteous lives. After all, what good is it to be a Christian if it doesn’t produce a lifestyle of righteousness that others can actually observe?
In the following section of 1 Peter, we begin to see that identifying with Jesus is not always the immediate cause of our persecution. How Jesus affects our life leads in turn to unjust suffering.
But as we face unjust suffering, the proper way to respond to it depends completely on knowing how we belong to Christ.
Listen to 1 Peter 3:13-17.
- Do you find it generally true that most people do not want to harm those who are zealous to do good? (v. 13)
- What are some examples of persecution that you know about?
- How do you know if someone is zealous to do good?
- What do you think Jesus meant when he said “blessed are those who are persecutedfor righteousness’ sake?”
- Do you know people outside of Christianity who are nonetheless persecuted forrighteousness’ sake?
- How does God bless a non-Christian who is persecuted?
- What should Christians do to be a blessing to non-Christians who do good?
- Why do we not have to fear anybody? (v. 14-15)
- Does knowing God give us a different approach to persecution for good than theapproach of those who don’t know God? (v. 15)
- Why is it important to give an answer for our hope? (v. 15)
- Why is it important that our answer be given with gentleness and respect?
- How does our good conscience help our cause when we are persecuted? (v. 16)
- Why might it sometimes be God’s will for us to suffer when doing good? (v. 17)
- Do you have faith in God’s ability to bless people who are suffering for doing good?
- How can you demonstrate that faith?